[I have a friend who is an amazing writer but he tends to abandon his writing projects often. I wanted to save his writings for posterity and make them more widely available. The MonkeyPope Archives contain his collected works.]
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Airborne: Week One
Yesterday afternoon, after being released for the weekend, I deliberated whether or not I should get a hotel room for both Friday and Saturday night. I was already planning on getting one for Saturday night, to catch up on sleep, get re-connected, and escape the military and its denizens just for a night. But two nights in a row seemed a bit over-indulgent for a soldier at airborne school.
While I was contemplating my course of action and changing out of my sweat-stained uniform, some soldier talking on his cell phone walked into my room, propped his shoulders on the window sill and made it plain to his presumably ex-girlfriend that he ain’t paying that bitch shit.
I stared at him, shocked at his audacity to just hang out in my room when I had no idea who he was. Just as I was about to leave for the shower (all my stuff was secure in my wall locker), he turned around, looked at me as he walked by and said, “what’s up?” as if it’s perfectly natural to walk into other people’s rooms and bitch out your ex. Admittedly, there’s no doors to our rooms, but still, I expect others to respect what little privacy the barracks afford us, the sanctity of personal space.
After I returned from the shower, he was back in my room, still bitching out his ex. So I walked up to him wearing nothing but my towel and looked at him till he walked out. I dressed, secured all my belongings, and got a hotel for the weekend. Both nights.
While the school is physically wearing, the biggest challenge I face is existing in a military training environment again, surrounded by soldiers straight out of Basic and AIT. Not to mention I’m used to a military intel environment, where the majority of folks know it’s not kosher to yell at a sergeant airborne while standing in formation at attention, “Sergeant airborne, I gotta take a shit.”
Before I give the day-by-day highlights, let me state the basic structure of everyday. First formation is 5:10 a.m. (I usually get up right after 4:30 a.m.). We run in formation everywhere we go, without exception. Well, it’s more of a jog…well, sometimes more of a shuffle, thus the term Airborne Shuffle. We run out to PT which begins every morning with 10 chin-ups and 10 push-ups, followed by either a run in formation with cadence or some sadistic variation of circuit training/strength training. Afterwards, we run back to the barracks, are given 20 minutes (on average) to shower, change and clean the barracks. We then go to breakfast. Before we can enter the chow hall, we must do 5 chin-ups. After breakfast, we run back to the barracks. Upon entering the barracks area, we must do 10 chin-ups and 10 push-ups. Then we run off in formation to whatever training we have for that day. We run back for lunch, 5 chin-ups previous to, and 10 afterwards; run back out for the afternoon; run back when training is over and go to dinner again in formation and again, 5 and 10. After dinner, the day is over. BUT there is also guard duty and you may get that at anytime for a block of two hours.
And the training usually involves a lot of sweating and becoming exhausted with an occasional smoking session for a ‘lack of motivation.’
Day-By-Day Highlights (for lack of a better word)
Day One — I woke up throughout the night, nervous about missing the first formation at 4:15 am, which, considering the commotion in the morning, was a pretty unfounded anxiety. The first order of business was a PT test to assure we met the standards for airborne school. I wasn’t too worried, my PT scores were better than the 60% required in every event. I had eaten well, hydrated, and rested over the weekend. We did the 10 second chin-up hang, then the push-ups, sit-ups and 2 mile run. But I ran into a small snag.
I failed push-ups.
All I needed was 42 reps within two minutes. The week prior, I did 68 on a record PT test. This time, I did 37. Well, 37 that counted. I probably did around 60-some in total, but my grader was disinclined to count most of them. When I began, things seemed fine, he counted the first 5-10 push-ups, then he stopped counting for some time. Finally, he said, “chin up.” I put my chin up and kept doing push-ups. But still he didn’t give the count. Then he said “go down further.” I always assure to break the plane when doing push-ups for a test but now I went down till my chest almost touched the ground. I wasn’t keeping count myself (because it doesn’t matter how many I think do), but by the fatigue I felt in my arms, I assumed I was around the 50 rep mark at least. Considering I only had to do 42, I was a little confused. So I stopped in the front lean and rest and asked for the count. He seemed distracted, looked off to the side and said, “Uh, just keep going.” So I did. After about 5 more reps, he started counting again, “34…35,” then the count stopped again. As time ran down, he gave me the 36 and 37 as I struggled to get back up on the final second. Failed.
I was shocked. Pissed. I ran over to the failure formation (and the failures had to exit through the center of the gravel pit so everyone could see those weak pathetic losers). I thought that was it. I’d end up a holdover, have to stay for another week on casual duty and try again when the next company starts school. And wow, would that suck. Found out us failures were permitted another try. After doing as many push-ups as we could in two minutes, we had about ten minutes to re-coup and try again. It seemed cruel, humiliating and pointless. My arms and chest were exhausted. They didn’t count my push-ups before, why would they count them now? But I was so pissed off that that bitch-ass grader discounted so many of my push-ups and there was no fucking way I was gonna be in Fort Benning longer than I had to be. I was still scared shitless of failing, the thought ran through the back of mind, but there was no other option but to knock ’em out. I did ’em in under a minute. I stopped at the 39 rep mark, just to savor the moment. I took a breath, looked at my grader, smiled to myself, shook my head and finished up. I was still so angry afterwards that I did the sit-ups faster than ever before and I ran the 2-mile in 14:07, 22 seconds faster than what I had ran it in last week.
When you’re a soldier, you hear stories from broke-ass soldiers all the time about how they were purposedly fucked over, how they were singled out, how they did everything right but some dickhead sergeant just didn’t like them. Usually, those stories are bullshit. Soldiers fuck up, blame others, and can’t bear to take responsibility for their own actions. And with that caveat said…I was fucked. It was obvious that they were going to fail a certain number of soldiers and I so happen to be one of them. I guess it does occur. But I bounced back. Not the most promising of beginnings, but it was one challenge out of the way.
After what turned out to be the usual morning routine, we were treated to a demonstration that summarized all the training we would receive over the next two weeks. It’s difficult not to laugh at the Sergeant Airbornes as they go through these ritualized motions for demonstration. Whenever they come to a stop, one leg shoots out behind them, both arms spread out like swept back wings and they lean forward, then snap to attention, slap their thighs and yell, “Airborne!” That and other motions during the demonstration made me think of the staging of mid-20th century Russian propaganda plays, or that of Red China celebrating the cult of Mao (and yes, I have seen clips of them).
The rest of the day was devoted to how to wear the parachute, how to move on the plane previous to the jump, how to hook up your line, how to properly exit a C-130, what to do the in the air, etc.
Day Two — We did the 34 foot mock tower which simulates jumping from a C-130. We wear a harness that is attached to a pulley on a zip line which descends to a berm about a hundred yards off. We jump from the 34 foot tower sideways as if we’re exiting a plane in flight, we fall for a little bit before our risers catch us and we slide down the zip line to the berm on the opposite end of the field. We must exit properly with our chins tucked in, elbows tight to the body, feet and knees tight together and legs raised to form a 90 degree angle with the upper body. We count to 4000, check risers and canopy, cross the berm, get disconnected, run to the sergeant airborne for evaluation and repeat. We must exit satisfactorily three times to pass.
I was nervous before going, especially since so many people were just flopping out of the tower and not jumping out. Two people were too scared to do it and were pushed out, and then dropped…from the school. But I jumped right out and it was actually a great ride. A lot of fun. Wish I coulda done it some more.
Day Three — How to fall over and over again. After learning the basics, we just fell on the ground and simulated landings to the left, right, front and rear. Then from a 2 foot step, then we stepped up onto a stepped platform 3-6 feet high, grabbed a pulley attached to a wire that slightly slanted down to the other side of the pit, cleared the platform and fell when the SA told us to. Had to perform a certain number of satisfactory fall in each direction before proceeding to the next block of instruction.
Day Four — PT was grass drills, a variation of front, back, go’s. In our massive covered gravel pit, we run in place when told GO, hit the ground when told FRONT or BACK and then do whatever comes next: roll left, roll right, push-ups, flutter kicks, leg spreaders, etc. By the end, I was throwing up while doing push-ups and running in place and when we switched to flutter kicks, I was blowing the puked-up water out of my mouth. I was drenched in so much sweat and the vomit was nothing more than water and some stomach acids, so you couldn’t really tell.
On the run back, we had to stop for another formation passing by and they were singing the cadence, “Glory, glory, what a hell of a way to die,” and for some reason, it made me feel so good, it made everything feel worthwhile. The suffering, the deprivation, the lack of liberties, of privacy. Why a song about dying pointlessly jumping into battle would make me feel good I have no idea.
The rest of the day, we finished practicing our landings.
Day Five — Four mile run in formation for morning PT. Not bad but for the hill on the track we had to run up five times. A couple people fell out. This day, we learned how to disconnect from our parachute after landing to keep from dragging and we learned how to pack our chute. The afternoon was maintenance time, make sure our helmets and ankle braces were serviceable (Oh, throughout the day, as we run in formation, we do so wearing our ballistic helmets and holding in one hand our one-quart canteen and in the other our ankle braces). Really, it was downtime, sit around, wait for other to finish qualifying on whatever tasks they screwed up on and wait for others doing details.
After this first week, my body’s sore but truthfully, not quite as sore as I expected. From doing at least 55 chin-ups a day, I developed callouses on my hands which turned into blisters which popped and oozed and ain’t looking too pretty now. Need some neosporin and probably be taped all of next week. My back muscles are sore, my neck muscles are sore (from holding my head up during flutter kicks and from holding my chin to my chest with a helmet while practicing falling), my shoulders are sore from chin-ups, I have mild shin splits in my right leg, I think I have a very minor stress fracture in my left foot (surprisingly occurred on the easy run on Friday, just started throbbing), my left knee feels a little tweaked, I have a little scar on my chin from not tucking my head in during my first jump from the 34 foot tower (my riser whipped across my face), and I’ve had a cold the entire time. Blow my nose and sneeze constantly. But really, I expected a super overall body soreness that I haven’t experienced. yet.
Next week, we have two 4-mile runs, one 5-mile run, log drills, circuit training, the swing harness thing (drops you from a higher height in more unpredictable ways), followed by the 250 foot tower. The towers hoists a parachute up to the top with you attached then drops you. You land. You try to land properly.
Tomorrow I return to the barracks, polish my boots, make sure all is ready, hydrate up, get a good night’s sleep and begin week two.